Conversations with customers – their unpredictability and variety – make secondhand bookshops fascinating places.
Take, for example, the small collection of books on the history of costume from the library of the late David Beeton, for many years a designer with the BBC. The ones on cloth cutting down the ages attracted the eye of Gavin May. Gavin is a descendant of Samuel May, a leading theatrical costumier of the early nineteenth century. Noticing our copy of James Laver’s work on theatrical costume, Gavin showed me a picture of Edmund Kean as Richard III, in highly dramatic pose – bearing a sword which has passed down through generations of the May family and now resides in Gavin’s attic.
A Canadian beekeeper, fresh from a beekeeping conference in Ukraine that attracted an astonishing 10,000 delegates, bought a 1980s manual, telling me that it was purely “for historical interest”. He explained that beekeeping has changed so much since the advent of the Varroa mite, older beekeeping manuals recommend outdated procedures for hive health. Quite a while later, I honourably passed his comments on to a couple intent on setting up beehives in their communal backgreen, but they bought an old beekeeping manual anyway. I hope it covers how to sweeten the neighbours with honeyed words.
John Boa, twice winner of the Golden Spurtle Award at the World Porridge Making Championships, dropped by last summer on his way to the Mod in Paisley and in search of a “smallish” Gaelic dictionary because his Dwelly wouldn’t fit in his backpack. After much hunting, which gave us time for a chat about the new Gaelic Tin Tin (An t-Eilean Du), we found a concise MacEachan tucked at the end of a row of Highlands and Islands books. Strangely enough, the next person through the door was a member of the MacEachan clan – Alasdair MacEachan of the Islands Book Trust, making an Edinburgh detour on his way back to Lewis after attending the Dublin launch of the autobiography of Michael Carney, the last living person to have been born on the Great Blasket Island (another title for my list of customer recommendations).